Microsoft Spends $9 Billion On Research, Focuses On Cloud
Other operating systems have pulled ahead and probably will continue to do so. Office has been nearly feature complete since Office 97 (which is perfectly serviceable for 99% of people), and Open Office will eventually get there, if it hasn't already. Internet Explorer continues to slip.
Microsoft continues to win in business software like Exchange and Outlook, and things that integrate with them. My guess is that they're putting a hell of a lot of money in SharePoint, because what other CMSs integrate that well with things like Exchange and Office and Active Directory? SharePoint will help them maintain their business dominance as they get clobbered in other areas.
I'm not sure what the cloud can do for them, there seems to be a lot of "magic happens here" in it. This could be a way for them to move Exchange and SharePoint up to a service pool in the sky.
Microsoft usually takes a few times to get things right. The next iteration of Xbox ought to be a monster, but I wouldn't rely on their cloud for a few more years.
How Do You Get Users To Read Error Messages?
It's that simple. A core percentage of your users simply refuse to read what is in front of them. They skim, they look for only the things they expect, and absolutely nothing else. They're basically running the visual equivalent of an Expect script, responding to a prompt in a way which may or may not be appropriate.
I'll give an example. I had a password reset program which, of course, required an email address specific to our users. However, there was a possibility that users would use a different email address that wasn't valid. No, I had no access to that list of addresses to match and verify, that was simply out. Instructions were provided on the page as to which kinds of email addresses were allowed, and which were not. Of course users ignore instructions, as we all know. They see "email address" and they begin typing. Instructions could be on the top, on the bottom, or right before that row -- it didn't matter. This happened about 45% of the time. Okay, half of our users read directions, yay.
80%? Such an optimist!
Only thirty percent of my users, presented with a HEY IT LOOKS LIKE YOU ARE USING THE WRONG EMAIL ADDRESS HERE IS WHAT IT SHOULD LOOK LIKE kind of prompt, right in their face, changed their behavior. It was big! It was colored! It covered the form until you made it go away. The rest kept doing it the wrong way. Sometimes several times in a row (I watched the logs). I could see them return a month later to reset their password, which they had forgotten, and make the same mistakes. They will not remember more than a few minutes ago, they will not read instructions, and they will not respond to error messages. They will not remember error messages they see.
Once you accept the existence of this core group and realize that you can do nothing to help them besides providing hopefully appropriate environmental prompts, the rest explains itself. Do not waste time trying to solve the problems with this group. If you carefully watch their behavior on other systems, they experience identical problems wherever they may go. They exist in a perpetual struggle with computers, thrashing like a goldfish thrashing in a corner of an aquarium. Feel sorry for them if you must, design around them if you can, but you cannot change their behavior for them, only provide a padded environment where they cannot hurt themselves too much and can hopefully mouth soft objects with rounded corners.
Learning Python, 4th Edition
I sincerely hope that this version is better than the first edition, although anything short of a random re-arrangement of pages would serve as an improvement. The first edition actually delayed my initial use of Python by about a year and a half. I had heard wonderful things about the language so I figured, "Ah, an O'Reilly book!" Big mistake.
Endless bits about immutability, without hints as to why I ought to care. I can appreciate the use of the interactive prompt now, but to start with it seems ... strange. I was not transitioning to Python from shell programming, and I doubt many do. Lambda expressions, entirely too early. Not a great deal of attention paid to idiom, which is just about central to learning a new language. Little discussion of how you might have accomplished tasks in other languages and wish to do the Pythonic equivalent. I loathed the first edition and refer to it precisely never. I eventually dropped it in a puddle and felt no urgency towards retrieving it. The now-wrinkly cover suggests that some unhappy deity has attempted to purify it by flood.
I ought to have tried fire.
Google Gets US Approval To Buy and Sell Energy
It's time to replace all of those "Microsoft as the Borg" images with "Google as the Borg."
Feds Push For Warrantless Cell Phone Tracking
At this point, given how little I use my cell phone, anyway, I am strongly considering making a little box out of mu-metal. I think (but have not run the numbers) that it would be more effective than simple copper at the given frequencies. Whenever I want to use the phone, I will take it out of the box. Seeing as how I have used no minutes or text messages this month (already a third over), there's an argument to be made for switching to a much cheaper service.
I might get a pager, in case work (or anyone else) needs to get ahold of me.
FBI Pushing For 2-Year Retention of Web Traffic Logs
We should log lollipop purchases, so we can crack down on those guys in big white vans with FREE CANDY on the side.
MPEG LA Extends H.264 Royalty-Free Period
You're right, I completely ignored the hardware decoding aspects. Every time I look at video/audio encoding/decoding, I end up adding at least one more link in the chain. I don't know if video encoding is all that easy. I don't know personally anyone who does it and I know a fair bunch of programmers in disparate knowledge domains. Maybe I just don't know the right guys.
I'm not completely ignorant of serving video over HTTP, I'm just not a huge fan of it. I know it's what the cool kids are doing right now, but it overloads the protocol in a way it wasn't meant to be. Traffic shaping alone kills the issue for me. I would much rather have my lightweight text delivered to me over HTTP and then someone else's bandwidth hoarking video over another protocol. I know everyone talks about the coming bandwidth utopia, but where I am at, we're having significant issues with certain folks (ahem, students) absolutely slamming the Teh Tubes with torrent traffic and videos, so much so that people are having trouble checking email and reading webpages.
MPEG LA Extends H.264 Royalty-Free Period
Streaming is not downloading. At all.
Downloading sends the whole file. It might as well be over FTP. Streaming is completely different.
First off, your media player and the streaming server negotiate a good bandwidth.
Next, the streaming server selects either the file or a stream within the file (as with RealMedia's SureStream) which suits the bandwidth of your media player.
This gets handed off by the server to your media player in a packetized fashion, little chunks of video. If you want to skip to a minute before the end, you may do so, even if you have not downloaded the whole file.
If a few packets get dropped along the way, if the buffer on your media player fails to take care of it, there can be a resend.
Or if your pipe gets clogged up, the streaming server can renegotiate the bandwidth. Or switch to a different server on the cluster, without you knowing about it.
Then there's a bonus for the people who are concerned with piracy (or those fearful of being sued for enabling it), which is that a whole copy of the file is not left on your hard drive. (You can get one by using a "stream ripper," but this is due diligence we're talking about here)
There's a lot of other stuff involved, and I'm drastically over-simplifying, but Streaming is not Downloading.
Next X-Prize — $10M For a Brain-Computer Interface
For a commercial takeoff, we need to expand beyond quadruplegic patients and the locked-in. Always loved the idea, but let's be honest -- if typing is faster, typing will still win. And that's just output. For input, I don't think competing with something high-speed like vision is all that important. Just a BCI that would allow for IM rates might as well be freakin' telepathy.
MPEG LA Extends H.264 Royalty-Free Period
Streaming video needs an Apache. By that, I mean a very standardized server and set of protocols for delivering files encoded in a non-proprietary, free-to-use, free-to-decode, unrestricted-in-every-imaginable-sense manner.
The source of what has held this back, in my opinion, is that taking giant video files (and you should see how big raw video is) and cramming them down into small, chunkable files which can decode at the end into recognizable images is hard. Hard in the sense of "takes people with a great deal of math knowledge and computer science knowledge to pull off." It's not like HTML, where you are pushing around what are basically text files that you can open in Notepad. It takes a great deal of intellectual know-how and deep domain knowledge to pull this off on the encoding end in some reasonable fashion that doesn't take a lot of CPU cycles.
The few people who can do this take a long time to figure out a new scheme, and they have to test the living hell out of it. You can write a primitive webserver without too much fuss, it's just a specialized server which kicks out text and binary files on command, after all. Encoding video and serving it, though, is not easy. That's why so much goes into protecting the intellectual property; it was not trivial to create. Wade around in the fifteen profiles for MPEG-4 Part 10 aka AVC aka H.264 for a while and realize that this is not trivial. Hell, it had to be jointly developed by two groups, ITU's video group and MPEG. Take a look at Theora -- even its codebase is descended from something that once took real money to make.
If streaming media is to have its Apache, an investment of money must be made in finding these highly talented individuals and paying them to make a new, open standard. And code must be made available for an end-to-end implementation on many platforms, everything from encoding to serving (with authentication fun, to boot) to decoding, on Windows, on Unix/Linux, on Macs. With regression tests and tutorials. Plug-ins to be written for the top, say, ten browsers. And a decoder library for Flash. While this is going on, political battles will have to be fought to keep Microsoft, Apple, and other companies out of the loop, or they'll pull the usual and destroy or cripple the product before it reaches market, just as they managed to poison HTML5's video standards.
None of this is technically impossible, but it will be hard, and it will cost money and political tokens and time and real effort. Can it be done?
Laser Fusion Passes Major Hurdle
.. which said that it was never that fusion was 50 years away, but that it was 500 billion dollars away. The fifty years was just an estimate based on how much funding, brainpower, and so forth went into it. Let's face it, you can't just put a basket in a storage locker with a placard atop it reading FUSION, then come back in fifty years and expect to find something in the basket.
We have not spent the large amounts of money required to do the research. When we do, it's in fits and starts, buffeted by people with ecodread and slavered over by those in the DOD who lust for some new level of destruction. It's always been easy to just ... drill another well. Blow up another mountaintop for coal that they assure us will be clean, this time around.
Obama Choosing NOT To Go To the Moon
Human spaceflight is, at this time, an enormous waste and will remain so for decades.
We need a Beanstalk and variants thereof to get canned monkeys up into space at a reasonable price point, and we need semi-autonomous probes and drones to build the colonies on ... wherever, because this is not like the Frontier. You can't just stumble onto the Martian surface, chop down some trees, build a lean-to, then set traps for bunnies. We need drones to skitter through the Asteroid Belt, locate nickel-iron rich rocks, then smelt them down with either fusion (unlikely), fission (environmentally terrifying), or solar power to build three meter thick slabs of metal to shield the helpless, bored primates from the oncoming sleet of cosmic rays and other charming particles as they take a two year trek. By the time they get there, hardy robots will have needed to build an enormous infrastructure to support now less-healthy monkeys in an environment not particularly compatible with terrestrial life of more than a few dozen cells in scope.
We do not have the robotics and IT to make this happen. Instead, we get a metric/English issue and we slam probes down onto the surface of Mars.
Let me know when we get some reasonable colonization and return thereof from Antarctica. It's a far more welcoming environment. It's just not !!!SPACE!!! and therefore science-fiction fans everywhere do not get all excited about it.
Now I know everyone will get all excited about Tang and freeze-dried foods and all of the wonderful things we got out of our last serious space program. Great. What have we gotten since the Shuttle got started? Well, not much. Because we're doing the same old approach and have solved all of the technical issues encountered in doing that approach. If we use that approach to get to Mars, we will develop few new technologies.
Or we could build the aforementioned probes and drones. We'd learn a lot from that. Sending some folks to the Moon again? Not really.
The Cell Phone Has Changed — New Etiquette Needed
A friend who works the pharmacy at Walgreens has some very entertaining stories to relate. Despite signs posted otherwise, people will pull up to the drive-through, with other customers waiting behind them, and continue conversations for a few minutes before turning to the pneumatic tube. Once, my friend asked one of these folks if there was anything they could do and received a lecture about how rude it is to interrupt someone's conversation.
Similarly, I see this waiting in line at restaurants all the time. I could make exceptions if someone had arrived and was taking, say, a request for a Coke for one kid, a Sprite for another, and so forth, but I encounter that about once a year.
I'm sure someone will chime in with the idea that this person might be a DOCTOR *Felicia Day eye-widen and gasp* and we mustn't do anything to interrupt. When was the last time you or anyone you know had an actual life-or-death emergency call to their off-duty doctor? It isn't as if you get too many over the phone heart surgeons responding to a phone call in the movie theater with this stunning new operation that only they have performed and they must relate every cut, clamp, and stitch to some quivering and clueless resident.
If I were building a movie theater, I'd use enough rebar to make it into a giant Faraday cage. And maybe have an FCC-approved step-pedal triggered highly localized cell phone jammer at every cash register. As it is, I have stopped ducking and weaving to everyone who, so immersed in their uber-important cell phone conversation that they cannot look where they are going, would like to bump into me.
YouTube Offers Experimental Opt-In HTML5 Video
I provide some video streaming to not-a-lot of users at my job. It's free. I just began looking around for new solutions, since we have been serving in just one format for a while. H.264 looks awfully attractive, and then BAM, I come across the licensing stuff and I am absolutely terrified.
I am loath to even suggest it as a solution, since it will require some serious lawyering and quite possibly some large payments to the MPEG LA group.
Why Firefox's Future Lies In Google's Hands
The developers of FireFox are in a state of denial; that rarely lends itself to dealing with reality-based threats very well.
Take the memory management issue -- the developers routinely say "There's no such thing." Or "you're using too many plug-ins and extensions." Or any number of excuses. I can hit the same pages with Opera as with FireFox, with less memory usage. And I'm not using plug-ins. The reflex nerd answer is "well, stop browsing that way!" That is a foolish thing to say, as it will cause me to switch to a browser where I do not have to alter my habits.
You can see that Internet Explorer's market share continues to drop, but as of late, it is not through growth in FireFox. It's from the adoption of other competing browsers. As long as the Mozilla Foundation is operating with the THERE ARE NO BAD PROBLEMS, JUST BAD USERS mindset, they'll continue to make more and more strategic blunders. Reliance on Google is one of them. Google has no friends, only temporary allies which may be either dispatched or eaten when it is convenient.
Obama Appointee Sunstein Favors Infiltrating Online Groups
... to see these HEY THERE IS NO CONSPIRACY bots auto-responding to anything mentioned about $conspiracy, amongst the webcam bots, in the handful of remaining Yahoo! Chat rooms which remain until Yahoo! gives up and shuts down chat altogether. See also the Israeli "MegaPhone" application.
Automated comments, emails, robodialers, blog posts, and messages: making humans more distrustful of human communication year by year.
"Home Batteries" Power Houses For a Week
I'd prefer an EESU from EESTOR (if that ever happens), since it would be cheaper on a buck-per-Joule level and it would last for a very, very long time. Second to that, nickel-iron batteries, which are heavy and inefficient, but survive much abuse and have working lifetimes far longer than that of most other batteries. Pity they are no longer made in the United States; much of their price is presumably in just shipping them here.
The Trial of Terry Childs Begins
That's true. But if I changed your locks and kept the keys, charging me with "stealing your house" is not legitimate.
Since you like that door analogy.
How To Build a Quantum Propulsion Machine
I see plenty to be excited about. For one, you're not having to chuck stuff out the back. With a rocket, you are carrying your reaction mass along with you. You're not only having to accelerate your ship, you're having to accelerate the stuff you'd just gonna throw out the rear a few minutes from now. It means that ships are very heavy and inefficient.
With this, you're just concerned about your energy. Without it, you're concerned about your energy, and the extra mass you have to carry along with you, and that makes the energy required go up. No dragging along big tanks of propellant with you. It might be quite liberating.
The "Dangers" of Free
Ah, Techdirt: Free is good! Non-Free will die! Now, if it doesn't work out for you, your business model sucks. Every time you read "business model" on Techdirt, pretend it says "Plan $X for Getting Money." And we don't know what $X is. Neither do they.
Aside from variations on the hostage model, they have yet to suggest a business model that does not succumb to the things they propose in the first place. Example: Discs will be pirated. Solution: Make additional content available to people who buy your discs. Problem: additional content gets pirated ...
Basically, you have to tour if you're a musician. Don't count on T-shirts, because anyone can replicate your T-shirts, cheaper. Sign books if you're an author.